A suburban Chicago car dealership has been shut down and stripped of its dealer license by the state after customers reported the dealership failed to pay off trade-in loans, putting those customers' credit at risk.
As many as 500 transactions with Nissan of St. Charles are now under investigation, the Illinois Secretary of State Police told NBC 5 and Telemundo Chicago.
"Five hundred cases that we're reviewing that clearly show [Nissan of St. Charles] didn't transfer the title or plates for these vehicles," Elmer Garza, deputy director at the Illinois Secretary of State Police, said.
Customer Daniel Wooters of Lockport said he knew something had gone wrong when he received paperwork for two auto loans in his name: one on his new 2018 Pathfinder and one on the 2014 model he traded in last November at Nissan of St. Charles and hadn't seen since.
"The day we traded it in, I took out the car seat, thinking everything was good," Wooters said.
A collection of complaints lodged with the Better Business Bureau and Illinois Attorney General’s office against the business paint a similar picture.
"It has been over 50 days since I traded in my vehicle," one complaint reads. "They assured me [the] vehicle would be paid off within 10. … Still today [the] bank has not received payment."
"I worked extremely hard to establish my credit to have it damaged by a company who was responsible for paying off the previous vehicle," another complaint reads.
The State of Illinois took action on Feb. 1, when the Secretary of State downgraded the dealership from "good" to "not in good standing" to do business in Illinois.
That very same week, the dealership painted a rosy picture of business, declaring on social media, "It’s going to be a great month at Nissan of St. Charles!"
The state then "officially shut them down and took their dealer license away from them," Garza said.
The dealership is now under investigation by the Secretary of State Police and Illinois Attorney General.
Nissan of North America told NBC 5 and Telemundo Chicago it sent a notice of termination, revoking the dealership's authority to operate as an independently run Nissan dealership.
"Nissan dealerships are all independently owned and operated," Nissan of North America said in a statement, adding it is "not a party" to vehicles sales and calling the current situation "extremely unfortunate."
Nissan said that while it is "deeply empathetic over the plight of any customer whose vehicle transaction may have not been processed according to state laws," the carmaker is not in a position to intercede.
What was the dealership hiding from customers?
NBC 5 and Telemundo Chicago attempted to ask a man identified on the dealer’s website as the floor manager, but he told us he no longer works there and that if we didn’t leave, he would call the police.
We also tried to reach the dealership owner, Fred Vargason, but our calls and emails were not answered.
Meanwhile Wooters said he is now struggling to pay notes on two cars, even though he hasn’t seen one of the vehicles for months. Since Nov. 9, he said he has paid about $4,500 and doesn't know if he will get the money back.
NBC 5 and Telemundo Chicago confirmed through a Freedom of Information Act request that the new owner of Wooters' old truck got her financing through Nissan’s loan arm. The carmaker said it is looking into this case.
The state has set up a hotline and email for affected customers of Nissan of St. Charles (630) 693-0551 x248 and firstname.lastname@example.org.